Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC Correspondent
2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg will no longer be a privateer team owner as the Norwegian signed with the Ford World Rally Team for the 2012 season. Solberg and Chris Patterson will contest the new year in one of the Fiesta RS WRCs alongside Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila.
Latvala and Solberg are competitors for the top prize in the WRC and the two drivers are not only to battle for possible victories but also for the championship crown. In this year’s campaign, Latvala placed fourth in the final standings with Solberg in fifth. In 2010, the two were even closer with the Finn edging out the Norwegian by two points to take second in the championship fight. Solberg settled for third as a privateer!
...one of the sports most experienced and flamboyant drivers...
"Hollywood" Solberg marks a return to the Ford oval where he kick-started his rise to the top as a world rally driver back in 1999. Gerard Quinn, Ford of Europe’s senior manager for motorsport said, “The addition of Petter Solberg to the team brings one of the sports most experienced and flamboyant drivers back to the team where he started his top-level career. A drivers’ world title and 13 world rally victories are testament to his abilities and his vast experience will be a great asset to our line-up.”
The Norwegian’s debut with Ford was contracted for three years but the partnership only lasted for one. However, it was his move to the Subaru World Rally Team in 2000 that saw him reach his goals. Not only did he take the WRC title in 2003 but he also made history as he was the first WRC driver from Norway to earn the championship. When Subaru pulled out of the WRC, Solberg switched to Citroen as a team owner/driver.
The elder of the two Ford drivers for next year brings an impressive record with his one championship and 13 rally wins. Solberg also has 47 podiums and 412 stage victories.
With Solberg now part of the team, it would appear that Ford is counting on his ability to work with their new lead driver. Latvala was the second driver last year as Ford pinned their hopes on Mikko Hirvonen to be the one to take the crown away from Sebastien Loeb. Yet, the Citroen ace did indeed take his eighth consecutive championship this year.
About Latvala’s climb to becoming the team’s lead driver, Quinn said, “We have a great team with M-Sport and its leader, Malcolm Wilson, and in Jari-Matti Latvala we have one of motorsport’s rising stars. Already regarded by many as the fastest driver in WRC, this year he showed consistency and expertise on all surfaces. We believe he will flourish in his new role as Ford’s team leader, and look forward to seeing his pace light up the special stages around the world.”
The Ford factory team has again renewed their partnership with M-Sport to continue to operate the WRC program. Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport managing director and team director said, “The performance of the Fiesta RS WRC in 2011 was strong on all surfaces and I’m genuinely excited about what we can achieve in the future. We want to challenge for world titles and I have no doubts that our car and driver combination, allied to the infrastructure and expertise of our staff at Dovenby Hall, will allow us to do that.”
Solberg is already testing the Ford Fiesta RS before the holidays in preparation for the 2012 season.